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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta at the Welcoming Ceremony for Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter


Location: Unknown

SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Thank you very much, Sandy. I really appreciate the very kind introduction.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's an honor and a privilege to be able to join all of you in congratulating Ash and welcoming him to the deputy's position. We've got some leaders of the department, past and present.

Senator Reid, thank you for coming.

We really come together because we want to thank you -- thank you for all the work and the effort that Ash has put in to trying to keep this country safe. And he now becomes the 31st deputy secretary of defense. The deputies must move a hell of a lot faster, because I'm the 23rd secretary -- (laughter) -- so clearly there's a lot more rotation going on at that level.

One of my favorite parts of this job is recognizing the truly talented people that are part of this department. I mean, coming -- you know, coming from the CIA to the Pentagon I've often described as moving from the corner hardware store to Home Depot. This is a big place. Just getting to this auditorium is a big, challenging course, as you can imagine. (Laughter.)

You know, CIA, you got to -- it's out there. It's a bubble. You just go to it. Here you got to make your way through the halls to be able to come here. This is a big place.

And yet, as I've often said, there are two very important qualities that are present both in my past responsibility and my present responsibility. And that's the mission, which is to protect the country and keep this country safe. But there's also a very important other attribute, which is so important: to have dedicated, committed people who do their jobs, who are not Republicans or Democrats; they're not liberals or conservatives; they are people who are committed to doing their job in keeping this country safe.

And that's what -- that's what Ash is about. As we all know, he's got a very deep and diverse background. And as we all know, most of the credit for all of Ash's accomplishments go not to the professors or to his colleagues or to his natural talents, but rather, to his family. These, as we all know, are very tough and demanding jobs. And none of us in government -- none of us in government -- could do these jobs without the love and support of those we love.

So I'd like to thank Ash's wife, Stephanie, and their great children, Will and Ava, who are here today as well, for the steadfast support and for putting up with, I am sure, the very long hours that Ash puts in and the strains and stresses that come with public service at every level.

And by the way, if you didn't know this and you thought Ash was smart, Stephanie is a hell of a lot smarter. (Laughter.) For those of you that are wondering why your 401(k) went to a 201(k), I advise you to talk to Stephanie. (Laughter.)

Ash grew up in Philadelphia. And I guess it's appropriate for a job here at the Pentagon -- he was the son of a psychiatrist -- (laughter) -- but also an English teacher. And he was raised in a household where, obviously, learning and creativity were highly prized.

And so, I'm also told, were nicknames. And I've recently discovered -- this comes from my other agency background -- (laughter) -- recently discovered that as a kid, Ash was known as Stoobie -- not Scooby-Doo, Stoobie. I also learned, as Sandy did, that he did get his first job in the car wash, but he was fired from that job. (Laughter.) And for whatever reason, his nickname did not stick. And that's probably a good thing because I can't imagine that the Senate would have confirmed somebody called Stoobie from Philly to serve as our second in charge here at the department.

Whatever name he goes by, Ash has proven himself. He has proven himself to be a determined and dedicated public servant, and he is truly a brilliant thinker with the creativity and discipline that you have to have in order to be able to excel in this office. And that's precisely why I asked Ash to be the deputy secretary of defense.

Over the course of a career that's included a number of very important Pentagon posts and very distinguished positions in academia, Ash has learned how to successfully navigate bureaucratic challenges without sacrificing his intellectual precision or his imaginative impulses. And that's important. If you want to be able to work your way through all of those corridors that are out there, you have got to be creative; you've got to be imaginative, and you always have to think outside the box. And that's exactly what Ash is about.

His first tour at the Pentagon began in the early 1980s, soon after he received his doctoral degree in theoretical physics at Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar. His work on strategic nuclear forces, missile defenses, space and intelligence systems allowed him to apply his scientific knowledge to critical national security issues of the time, which has been truly a hallmark of his career ever since.

During President Clinton's first term, I had a chance, as the president's chief of staff, to first get to know Ash. He served as an assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. Recognizing that nuclear proliferation was one of the key emergency security challenges that we were trying to deal with, Ash took the lead on implementing the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and overseeing the department's counter-proliferation initiative -- no easy task.

He then returned to Harvard, where he co-founded the Preventive Defense Project with former Defense Secretary Bill Perry. By all accounts, Ash had a very successful and fulfilling life at Cambridge. And he wrote in 2007 that he had absolutely no desire to return to Washington anytime soon. We all -- we all said the same thing. (Laughter.)

But the call came. The call to serve came again, and Ash answered. So two and a half years ago, Ash came back to the Pentagon, as Sandy said, as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. And how lucky this department was to have Ash back. It needed to become more agile in supporting the war fighter, and more responsive to the rapid pace of change in the world. We needed to modernize our entire approach to acquisition and logistics.

And his tireless efforts helped put us on the right course. Doing so not only helped, as Sandy said, to save lives -- and what greater accomplishment can you achieve at the Pentagon but the accomplishment of savings lives -- but it not only saved lives, it improved our ability to adapt to the modern battlefield.

This impressive track record and his proven ability to reform the bureaucracy and try to make it do its job better is exactly why I chose him to be deputy secretary. In a memo I wrote last month outlining his responsibilities, I called Ash my alter ego, and that's what I consider a deputy to be, an alter ego, someone who can go right into your shoes and run this department, someone who has to be there when you're not in your office, basically managing and running this institution.

Ash has apparently taken this directive to heart. In the past few weeks, long-time friends and colleagues were surprised to learn about his newly discovered Italian immigrant roots. (Laughter.) I'm also told that he's been spotted wearing a San Francisco Giants cap now and then. (Laughter.) Probably worst of all, supporting the 49ers, although Stephanie works both ends, I guess.

But in all seriousness, his experience and his strategic vision will be absolutely invaluable, at this time, in particular, of fiscal challenge and as our military faces a turning point after a decade of war. As my deputy, Ash serves as the department's chief management officer and is taking the lead on looking at wasteful spending, at eliminating inefficiencies and finding ways to reduce costs while maintaining the finest military force on the face of the Earth.

He's also guiding the department's ongoing assessment of our current and future strategic needs, which will shape the kind of force that we absolutely have to have for the challenges of today and the threats of tomorrow.

This is no easy challenge, as those of you that have worked here in the Pentagon understand. There are a number of areas that you have to look at, and every area has implications in terms of the impact on our national security. To be able to look at each of those areas, to look at the weapons systems, to look at the force structure, to look at the areas for efficiencies, to look at all of the various elements that are here, to be able to analyze them in terms of impact, to understand those impacts is absolutely essential if we're to do the best possible job on behalf of the American people to be able to meet our fiscal responsibility and yet also meet our responsibility to national security.

As a nation and as a department, the challenges we face are absolutely enormous. But we also have a great opportunity. And every challenge represents an important opportunity for the future, an opportunity to forge a better force for the future, an opportunity to modernize and strengthen our military. Ash's experience, his intuition, his ability to institute change will be essential to seizing these opportunities as we move the Department of Defense into the future.

I'd like to close by sharing a message from someone who was deeply disappointed at not being able to be here today: Ash's sister Cynthia, who's a children's book author. She sends her most heartfelt congratulations on behalf of the entire family.

And in doing so, she remembered how when they were children, Ash was always reassuring and calming whenever her overactive imagination would keep her up at night. Recalling that period, she wrote, and I quote: "It makes me see the ways in which Ash's life has been all of a piece. It has been his life's work to make all of us safe in a very scary and uncertain world," unquote.

And so it is my distinct pleasure to introduce Ash Carter as the 31st deputy secretary of defense and to thank him for once more answering the call and continuing his lifelong commitment to channel his talents towards protecting this country and its fellow citizens, to make all of us safe in what is truly a scary and uncertain world.

Stoobie, it's all yours. (Laughs.) (Applause.)

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